Barry Meguiar

2017 Inductee

Inductee Photo

Biography

Passion: If a person can be described in a single word, it would be hard to find one more apt for Barry Meguiar, president and third-generation leader of the car care products company that bears his family name. Becoming the leader of this small family business with a dozen employees and transforming it over four decades into a global company offering up 100’s of products in 120 countries, Meguiar has worked unceasingly to popularize the specialty automotive market, and he’s done it with an unyielding passion—for his products, for his profession, for his industry and, most of all, for his customers, the millions of “car guys” whose cause he has championed tirelessly.

“I was born into the business that my grandfather started in 1901,” Meguiar recalled. By the time he was in college, he became the company’s accounting department, keeping the books for a family-scale enterprise with annual gross sales of roughly $600,000.

The longer he worked for the company, however, Meguiar saw a bigger and brighter future for it—if he could convince his fellow family members.

“My family had nothing but disdain for the retail market,” he explained, “being wholly committed to only making professional polishes for car dealers and body shops. But because of the performance of our products, most custom painters across the United States started using them and giving them to the owners of every car that they painted. Our products started showing up in car shows all over the country. So one day I called the family members together and said, ‘Whether we like it or not, we’re in the retail business.’ This was in 1969.”

One of Meguiar’s inspirations occurred a few years earlier, when Noel Carpenter, publisher of the monthly trade journal Hot Rod Industry News, hosted an industry-only trade show that would later be acquired by Petersen Publishing Company and rebranded as the SEMA Show.

“I attended the very first SEMA show with our old packaging in the ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel back in 1963,” he said. “There were only a handful of exhibitors there, and Noel created this trade show for the high-performance industry. I got to watch the beginnings of the industry, and I’m one of the few left from those days still standing. It’s been quite a ride.”

Still, the early precursors to the SEMA Show had little initial effect on Meguiar’s business.

“The first shows didn’t impact our business much because our professional products weren’t available in retail stores,” he explained. “So when I went to car shows across the country, I was attacked by car guys asking, ‘What’s wrong with you guys? Why do I have to go to my paint shop to get your products instead of my auto parts store?’ Against the will of our family there was this pent-up demand for Meguiar’s going retail, and I saw that as a big opportunity. Selling the family on that idea was my toughest ever sales job.

For the next four years, Meguiar devoted his life to “flying a lot, traveling to auto shows, demonstrating our products and learning as I went along. I was a young guy back then, and all I knew was how to buff a car. I didn’t know anything about retail or packaging or marketing or anything like that.”

Meguiar’s approach to marketing was simple and direct: Approach every attendee and demonstrate the product, then give away a bottle free of charge, asking attendees to display Meguiar’s signs if they liked the results. Soon, Meguiar’s signs began popping up prominently at auto shows across the country.

While the product’s public profile grew gradually through hands-on demonstrations and word of mouth, retailers were still lukewarm to stocking the Meguiar’s product line.

“They thought it appealed to too small a market share,” Meguiar said. “They didn’t care about car guys. Then I’d explain to retailers that ‘car guys’ were different from their average customers. Whereas the average consumer might wax his car only once or twice a year, our people—who were a unique, separate part of the marketplace—they might be waxing their cars every week, 50 times a year. Not because they felt obligated but because they wanted to. That’s their joy, and their passion.” (That word again.)

“Eventually,” Meguiar continued, “I was able to get the product into some speed shops, then into some chains, and finally to the point where I could get onto the shelves of major retailers—and everywhere Meguiar’s products got on shelves, they not only sold but grew their automotive department. And the retailers came back at us like, ‘Wow, you really are bringing in new customers!’ I knew I was being a pioneer for every SEMA member who wanted to go retail.

The process of using a small family branded product line for professionals as a launching pad for going into the retail market place took four years, and the turning point took place at the SEMA Show in 1973.

“That’s when we introduced our new face for retail with the scripted logo, which I developed during that four-year period and that gave the product a whole new identity,” Meguiar said.

For many years, Meguiar’s exhibited both at the SEMA Show and the APAA Show in Chicago which transitioned into the AAPEX Show in Las Vegas. “The AAPEX show was important because that’s where the big buyers, the heavy hitters—the Walmarts, the auto chains, what have you—were focused. But there was no passion at AAPEX,” Meguiar said. “So one day I put a TV camera on our booth at the SEMA Show to show the buyers at AAPEX how cool the SEMA Show was. As we captured their interest, we drove them over to SEMA to experience SEMA for themselves and they were hooked. That was a game changer! Up to that point, most major retailers didn’t even know SEMA existed.”

“When we finally decided to show only at SEMA—this was sometime in the late ’90s, I believe—we brought even more people over from AAPEX, since they couldn’t find us at the Sands anymore.”

Asked why he decided to settle exclusively on the SEMA Show after years of exhibiting at both venues, Meguiar was emphatic: “The passion. SEMA is a passion show, and we’re a passion company with a passion brand. The business guys attended AAPEX, but the ‘car guys’ attend SEMA, and they are our world.”

Into the ’90s and ’00s, Meguiar expanded his industry outreach as SEMA’s brand ambassador par excellence.

“I felt like we needed to get more exposure for SEMA to car guys nationally and globally,” he said. “We needed to do broadcasting, and I had a radio show (“Car Crazy”), so we set up a live radio show at SEMA, broadcasting from the GM, Ford and Chrysler booths and finally a designated space provided by SEMA. Then we decided to go into TV, so SEMA offered to build a stage for us. We started broadcasting live from the Show as “SEMA TV” around 15 years ago. On average, I’ve done 100 interviews every year over the four days of the Show. To my knowledge, no one has ever broadcast live interviews for four days at a trade show, viewed live on monitors throughout the show and on a JumboTron as well as being shown in more than 90,000 hotel rooms. On top of that, we’ve done two “Car Crazy” TV shows from SEMA every year that have aired globally to millions of car guys...generating great PR for SEMA.”

A lifetime devoted to the specialty automotive market and to the “car guys” who sustain it have yielded Meguiar countless accolades over the years, among them being presented a Petersen Museum Icon of the Year award; being appointed grand marshal of such events as America’s Concours d’Elegance at St. Johns, the Copperstate 1000 and the Woodward Dream Cruise; and receiving lifetime achievement awards at the Route 66, Autorama and Grand National Roadster shows.

He’s also an avid collector, and in 2015, his 1901 Duryea (a tribute to the year his grandfather started the family business) was the oldest car on the lawn at the Pebble Beach Concours. (However, he credits his first car—a ’57 Chevy Bel Air—as his “pride and joy.”) He’s also been named Alumnus of the Year by Point Loma Nazarene University and Layman of the Year by the General Council of the Assemblies of God.

Reflecting upon his induction into the SEMA Hall of Fame, Meguiar waxed grateful: “SEMA has been such a big part of my life. It’s part of my family. Throughout all the years, I’ve promoted SEMA as much as I’ve promoted my own products. To do all that, and now this, it’s the cherry on top of the cake. All of my heroes are in the SEMA Hall of Fame, and it’s humbling to be associated with them. I’m greatly honored, I really am.”